Lawmakers seek high-risk crop insurance for key ingredient in craft beers

Legislative Gazette file photo

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, D-Brooklyn, and state Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci, R-South Huntington, are calling for the federal government to increase protections for the craft beer industry.

Schumer has been urging the Department of Agriculture to give New York State the “Malt Barley Endorsement” (M.B.E.), a special federal insurance option, available only to a select number of states that grow malt barley.

Malt barley, which is an essential crop for the craft beer and distillery industry in New York, is not currently insured by the USDA in New York.

Photo by Stacey Shackford, courtesy of Cornell Cooperative Extension

The lack of crop insurance has made growers reluctant to grow it and has hindered the expansion of the craft beer industry, which in turn has halted job creation.

Malt barley must pass rigorous quality standards and is considered a high-risk crop.

Recently, the USDA announced that in 2018 the agency will finally expand malt barley insurance to 44 counties across New York state.

Schumer, however, does not believe that simply expanding insurance is enough protection for the industry without the malt Barley Endorsement.

“New York is on the cusp of a craft brewing renaissance which not only benefits our growers, but all those who call New York State home,” said Schumer. “That’s why I am calling on the feds to endorse this enhanced insurance protection for malt barley. These breweries are a reflection of New York’s entrepreneurial spirit and must be properly supported by growers who can supply them with the locally sourced resources they need.”

“Upstate New York is increasingly becoming the Napa Valley of craft brewing,” Schumer added.

Lupinacci has written a letter to the Department of Agriculture calling on them to support Schumer’s proposal.

Suffolk County, where Lupinacci’s Assembly District is located, has 31 breweries and leads the state in craft beer production.

Assemblyman Lupinacci

“Suffolk County is the craft beer capital of New York state,” said Lupinacci. “With many brewers using locally grown ingredients, we need to have available supply. This can only be done through encouraging our farmers to produce the necessary ingredients that will keep our local beers on tap at tasting rooms, taverns, restaurants, and distributors.”

The craft beer industry is an important industry for both job creation and tourism, especially in Suffolk County.

“As a nationwide leader in the industry, craft beer creates thousands of jobs throughout our region, from the harvesting and distribution of malt-barley to the brewing and serving of the product,” said Lupinacci. “This is a common-sense measure that will keep this industry thriving, and tourists visiting, while contributing to small businesses throughout our town, county, and state.”

Over the next decade, New York state is expected to require that craft brewers and distillers source 90 percent of their ingredients from local farms and malt houses.

This makes the Malt Barley Endorsement even more important if the industry is going to continue to expand.

Currently, 20 percent of all hops and 20 percent of other ingredients, including malt barley, used by farm brewers licensed by the New York Farm Bureau are required to be grown or produced in New York state.

By 2019, that number is expected to jump to 60 percent.